If you’re experiencing wrist pain during the bench press, it’s time to address it. Don’t worry, this ailment is pretty common and probably happens to 8 out of 10 lifters. However, that doesn’t mean that it should be left untreated. There are plenty of tricks and exercises that you can use to get rid of the pain, but that won’t fix the real issue. When doing the bench press, a lot of stress can be put on the wrist joint, depending on how heavy the weight you’re using is, and if you’re not lifting with correct form, this could lead to permanent wrist damage.
The first rule in the book is this: if you can’t grip it, you can’t lift it. As simple as that. In other words, before you start lifting you have to make sure that your grip is strong and adequate to the mechanics of the lift you’re attempting to perform. And a proper bench press grip relies on good wrist stability and grip strength. But that’s not nearly enough to ensure correct form and a safe and efficient performance.
So let’s see what you can do to fix the real cause of your wrist pain, instead of only delaying it and making things worse.
Stop Benching with Bent Wrists
Wrist wraps and wrist curls can temporarily alleviate wrist pain but they won’t fix its cause. And the root of almost all bench press ailments is bad form, period. Now, if you’re a serious lifter, you already know that the safest way to bench press is with straight wrists. If you let them bend back, the weight will easily stretch them past their normal range of motion, resulting with pain.
In addition, bent wrists make it a whole lot harder to bench press, because the force you generate when you press the bar can’t go straight into it like it does when your elbows, wrists and the bar form a straight line. As with any other movement, proper form is what matters the most when it comes to both effectiveness and safety. If you damage your wrists, your lifting career will end before it even really began, so it’s very important to correct your form and technique as soon as possible and avoid injury. Most people get wrist pain because they grip the bar wrong, which causes their wrists to bend, no matter how hard they try to straighten them.
To fix it, grip the bar low in your hands (griping it too high causes your wrists to bend), close to your wrists, keeping them straight, and wrap your thumbs around the bar using the full grip. Squeeze the bar hard so it can’t move in your hands. The goal basically is to have your wrists and elbows aligned with the bar and your forearms vertical to the floor, so that the bar rests directly over your forearm bones. This should take care of any wrist problems and enable you to increase your bench press.
Check Your Grip Width
Another popular cause for wrist pain is using a grip that’s too wide. Some people use a grip too wide for their build, while others take it to the extreme. Sure, some powerlifters bench wide to decrease the range of motion, but they use wrist wraps and bench shirts.
Regardless of what feels most comfortable to you, a wide grip will move your elbows out and put your wrists at an angle which excessively stresses the joints, as well being too hard on your shoulders. And to avoid pain, you need your wrists to stay right above your elbows. So first of all, check your grip width. If your wrists aren’t above your elbows, narrow your grip until your forearms become vertical.
Forget about the thumbless grip
The thumbless grip, otherwise known as the suicide grip, requires holding the bar with the thumbs on the same side as the fingers. It’s been used by a few famous bodybuilders because it feels more comfortable and places less stress on the wrists, but those advantages are not nearly enough to make up for its huge flaws, such as the dramatically increased likelihood of the bar dropping on your head and killing you on the spot. With the thumbless grip, the bar automatically rests lower in your hands and your wrists are forced to stay straight, resulting with zero pain and an increased power transfer from the forearms to the bar.
Of course, the pros with decades of training experience under their belts can get away with it, but that doesn’t make it justifiable and awesome. And if you believe that this is highly unlikely to happen to you, remember that it only takes once. Maybe one day you’ll be extremely tired, won’t be paying enough attention or won’t squeeze the bar hard enough, and it will start rolling mid-set.
With the thumbless grip, you won’t be able to stop the bar from falling out of your hands because you won’t have your thumbs to help you, and you’ll end up either breaking a few ribs or die from a crushed skull. In such situations, even the best spotter in the world won’t be able to react fast enough to save you, and only a few lucky guys have managed to escape from under the bar in the last century. So just don’t bench press with a thumbless grip – it isn’t worth the trouble and can be substituted with other safer variants.
Try the bulldog grip
One of the easiest ways to grip the bar the right way is the bulldog grip.
Grip the bar with your thumbs and index fingers first, then rotate your hands in so that your thumbs point to the floor. If you do this correctly, the bar should rest right between the base of your thumbs and palms, positioned diagonally in your hands. Put your fingers on the bar and squeeze it hard. If the bar moves in the middle of the set, you need to squeeze it harder so that it doesn’t move up towards your fingers.
With the bulldog grip, your wrists will never bend and the power transfer from your chest, shoulders and triceps into your forearms and the bar will be higher. If you’re like most people, you’ll find it a bit uncomfortable or even unsafe at first, but this will change once you get used to it, so you need to stick with it for a while to get a chance to recognize its strengths. Ultimately, the bulldog grip will reduce the pain in your wrists and help you get more reps with heavier weight.
Wrist Wraps for Wrist Pain
Wrist wraps are pieces of cloth or leather that loop around your wrists and the bar with the purpose of making it easier to hold on to a heavy weight. Their main function is to support your wrists and prevent your wrist joints from moving around. As simple as they may appear, wrist wraps can be an extremely valuable tool for bodybuilders and powerlifters who are looking to make immense strength and size gains.If your wrists hurt when you bench press, wraps will provide significant relief and it’s highly recommendable to use them when lifting huge weights. However, wrist wraps can’t fix bad form, which is almost always the root cause for bodybuilding injuries. And no matter what you do to protect your wrists, if you don’t correct your form, pain and injury will be inevitable as you progress to lifting heavier weights.
The two things we most often hear from lifters who experience wrist pain is that their wrists are too small or too weak. So, these guys try to get rid of the pain with the help of wrist wraps and exercises that strengthen the wrists, but the pain never seems to really go away. Why is that so?
Because those two reasons are only excuses for not fixing their form. In reality, your wrists are very unlikely to hurt because of weakness or size. They hurt because you grip the bar wrong and your wrists are bent. And this mistake can both hurt you and prevent you from increasing your bench press in the long run. Or even worse, provided with the extra support from the wrist wraps, you could continue to bench press with bent wrists and end up reaping far worse injuries.Wrist wraps aren’t meant to help you get away with bad form, so save them for the huge weights and just straighten your wrists. As you increase the weight, your wrists will become stronger and able to support the weight itself on most sets.